I still remember the night I fully embraced Beyoncé Knowles – Carter. I was in the first quarter of my midwifery school career working yet another long shift at the birth clinic. One of my beloved roommates was also on shift that night of December 13, 2013. She came up the stairs when we were all winding down from a long day of prenatal appointments to put me on. She excitedly turned on her tablet and told me that not only did Beyoncé drop a surprise album that day but that it was a visual album with a series of 17 music videos, something that I have not seen done before. I was beyond impressed at the talent, boldness, innovation, and skill this artist had to pull off a project of this scale in secrecy and execute it flawlessly. As I watched the videos throughout midwifery school and the last few years, it is not just the artistry that has made me take a closer look at Beyoncé. I have felt a catharsis through this particular and ever changing chapter of her journey in womanhood, particularly through her art.
I noticed it immediately. Each video on her album showed her in a light that I have not seen her in before. Beyoncé has always been a sex icon for as long as I can remember but at this time of her life, she embodied that sexuality. She has always been sexy but she, like many of us, has grown into it and is maturing into erotic. She owns it and in turn is continuing to own herself. As the lead singer for Destiny’s Child, she was still a teenager like many pop stars, singing lyrics about things yet to be lived by her. Beyoncé has literally grown into a woman before our eyes. More than the songs and lyrics, I noticed the change in her body. I spend a lot of time observing and studying people’s bodies. I have studied my own body and understand that life experiences can cause us to carry, treat, display and be in our bodies differently.
With pregnancy and childbirth, I have especially noticed the deep effects that women’s reproductive lives have on their psyches and bodies. I have seen women emerge over time as grounded, empowered, traumatized, unrealized, inspired, depressed, and many other states of being after giving birth. I have seen friends and clients become more bold, daring to take leaps of faith for themselves and children, leaving abusive relationships, fulfilling lifelong dreams, be more in their bodies, become deeply reclusive, develop body insecurities, hide their goals behind solely being absorbed by the mother role and more on the spectrum of how birth changes people. In Beyoncé‘s case, I feel like I have been witnessing the stellar emergence of a woman set on fire.
Raw. Uninhibited. Sensual. Unapologetic. Vibrant. Sophisticated. Those are the words I’d use to describe her work. As I watched each of Beyoncé’s more recent videos, I watched how she moved her body and expressed her songs visually. It was watching particularly “Yonce/Partition” several times (one of my favorite videos) and seeing the way she danced that spurred my curiosity. It seemed so different to me that I decided to watch “Dance For You”. Something about her in that video felt girlish and slightly sanitized. Her voice, always strong and powerful, was missing something. A certain depth unnoticeable if there is nothing to compare it to. I took a look at “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and it was the same thing. She had more of a super model feel to her; it was choreographed, youthful and carefree – all appropriate for where she was at that time. I ended up watching as many of her music videos as I could and continued to find a commercialization that reminded me why I previously was not a fan. Beyoncé is a pop star and with that comes certain molds that need to be broken in regards to the consumption of womanhood. I wanted her out of the mold.
I remember watching “Drunk In Love” and the contrast of the dark and light captivated me first, followed by the richness of her voice as she belted out the song. Beyoncé didn’t perform the song; she lived it. She felt it in a way I seldom seen her do in her long career. She was emoting the song and every other successive video. I couldn’t help but be slightly surprised at how brazen “Blow” was. It’s not that sexiness is new to me nor is anything Beyonce sings about conservative in any way. Her body, voice, eyes, pelvic gyrations…her entire being was radiating a power and rawness that was not there before. At best, her previous videos and performances were too perfect. In the essay, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” by Audre Lorde, it speaks of the difference between something being pornographic and something being erotic. I would not classify her previous work as pornographic but in comparison, it lacked a certain depth and wildness of uncharted feelings that her work is now tapping into. “Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling. The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.”
Beyoncé has become more erotic in the chaos of her tribulations. In my research on her, I watched her documentary “Life is But a Dream”. I learned a couple of things from watching it but two things stuck out for me. Beyoncé suffered a loss in 2011 when she fired her father as her manager. This is pivotal because he had a certain control of her career since she stepped into the public eye and thus, in a way, she was not fully an adult. At the time, Beyoncé must have been about 29 or 30 years old. This is significant because of an astrological event that happens every 28 – 29 years of a person’s life: The Saturn Return. To put it simply, the Saturn Return is an astrological transit that occurs when the planet Saturn returns to the same place in the sky that it occupied at the moment of a person’s birth. While the planet may not reach the exact spot until the person is 29 or 30 years old, the influence of the Saturn return is considered to start in the person’s late twenties, notably the age of 27. Psychologically, the first Saturn return is seen as the time of reaching full adulthood, and being faced, perhaps for the first time, with adult challenges and responsibilities (Wikipedia). Reeling from my own Saturn Return, I can relate to Beyoncé’s growing pains and in the same breath, gain inspiration from seeing what someone just five years older than me is becoming after the trial by fire. Her emergence from such turbulence gives me hope in a much more solid way than “Survivor”, “Run the World (Girls)” or “Diva” could ever provide for me.
Her motherhood has had a huge impact on her life. She describes her pregnancy and feelings in the most genuine and sincere way throughout the documentary. “Life is But a Dream” is the most I have seen about her experiences with becoming a mother. My eyes welled up when she spoke about her miscarriage and I heard the song that came from the very depths I have been speaking about all along. Beyoncé recognizes how deeply birth has transformed her. In an interview, she said, “Her new music “is a lot more sensual . . . empowering.” It celebrates being a wife and a mother, reflecting the obvious changes in her life. “Right now, after giving birth, I really understand the power of my body,” she says. “I just feel my body means something completely different. I feel a lot more confident about it. Even being heavier, thinner, whatever. I feel a lot more like a woman. More feminine, more sensual. And no shame.” For a nullipara (a woman who has never given birth), it is important to hear such a famous woman celebrity talk about birth in this light.
Beyoncé broke the mold that prevented me from connecting her on a visceral level. It has been getting a glimpse of personal transformation, and not the conquering of worldly pursuits like Grammys and Superbowl performances that others give so much value to, that has attracted me to the Beyhive. Reflecting on her artistry, the critiques I’ve had and have of her do not overshadow her achievements. Beyoncé grew up, providing the world with songs that empowered many. She now offers the maturing audience that got bodied with her and declared their independence in her lyrics a woman in beautiful transformation.